[Full disclosure: I am the current Chair of the Board of Elections and Appointments, but in this letter I write in my capacity as a constituent of the VSA and draw from my previous experiences within it.]
In the Oct. 17 edition of The Miscellany News, Opinions writer Abram Gregory raised some important questions about the VSA and student labor on campus. I’d like to respond to, and examine, some of these issues, as well as highlight how the VSA has failed the student body over the years in a core aspect of self-governance.
Gregory notes, “[T]he only good justification for paying VSA executives is the fact that VSA executives do, in fact, serve the whole community.” Unfortunately, the VSA has not served the whole community ever since its website fell into disarray almost four years ago. If you navigate to vsa.vassar.edu, you’ll see images and descriptions of last year’s Executive Board (EB). If you navigate to the orgs page, you’ll see an outdated list of org names and email addresses. No info on org meeting times, no info about the org themselves. The Finance section? Outdated manuals and guides. The constitution and bylaws are not updated, not even to reflect that the VSA chose to elevate the Chair of Health and Wellness position onto the EB. It’s Nov. 11 at the time of writing and the VSA has not communicated with us at all about its website, with the only news about it being a single tweet on Oct. 13 when the VSA VP said “We should be having updates on the VSA website soon” (Twitter, @[miscellanynews], 10.13.2019).
Like at any institution, you’ll find people who are running a variety of things for a variety of reasons. But at the end of the day, a service must be delivered to the student body. Their combined stipends of $18,900 are taken from the money each student pays into the Student Activities fee. It’s time we asked the VSA why it has not kept the most basic conduit of information to us—the website—operational. Despite having many resources, such as several paid executives, a committee dedicated to operations and seven paid interns (including a website intern), the VSA has not updated us on progress on the website besides in brief passing at the Oct. 13 senate.
It’s troubling to think that there’s been no alarm at this significant problem. In order to understand the magnitude of this failure, it helps to go back in time when we had a functioning website: fall of 2016. Minutes of VSA meetings would be posted online, orgs could do most of their financial affairs online and the website contained more info about orgs than just their names and emails. Filing for elections was built in. Since then, turnout and graduating seniors who did not pass on the institutional knowledge meant the website was no longer updated (it was ultimately discarded last year for a WordPress site). Consequently, most of the VSA’s data and minutes are stored in Google Drive. This temporary “solution” feeds into many problems with accessibility and transparency between the VSA and constituents. If students want to have a better idea of what was discussed in senate than the Misc’s tweets, they will have to go out of their way to email VSA executives. What happens if you don’t get a response? If you want to know what was discussed in the Finance Committee? In the Committee of Equity and Inclusion? All these minutes should be easily accessible to all of us.
I believe that the website issue points to greater issues of self-governance and independence. It’s not enough for the VSA to offer abundant office hours. Students are not going to want to reach out if they don’t have an idea of what the VSA does. It’s the VSA’s responsibility to bring a vision of leadership and an active momentum for change to support us as we pursue our passions in our orgs. Instead of offering town halls, why don’t they just fix the website, or delegate the task to the administration?
Gregory highlights participation in self-governance, which is a beautiful expression, encapsulating an idea that drives civilization and achievement. The VSA is an important student body, and student leaders have a hard job, to say the least. I know this because I lived it. As Chair of Finance, I insisted on the website so much that I felt I couldn’t raise the topic anymore with my own EB. I know what it means to work additional hours without compensation. I also know what the unequal distribution of labor is like in the VSA, and the often thankless work that org leaders do for our campus. The VSA should set up a committee to discuss labor on campus, if not at least respond to Gregory’s points.
I conclude with a request to the VSA executive board: (1) Resign if you think the website is a non-issue or if you think you’ve done enough progress on it, or (2) issue a statement to the student body that explains where you stand on the website and what steps you’ll take to make it a priority, including how you’ll actively improve larger issues surrounding transparency and accessibility. If the VSA is unwilling to do this work, then I ask President Bradley to express these concerns to the EB in her meetings with them.
Mendel Jiménez ’20